Tuesday, January 5, 2010

January 2 - Of Abbesses

Did you know that, while it is critical in the monastery that the Sisters submit to the authority of their Mother Abbess, she is bound by kindness to them? Fascinating!

In the Rule of St. Benedict, the superior of a monastery is admonished to remember always "not to crush the bruised reed." (Isaiah 42:3) While the rules of the order are severe toward cutting away selfishness and oversights of reverence and devotion, Benedict tells the superior to "strive to be loved, not feared." Again and again in his little "rule," Benedict teaches leaders how to teach others to love one another, and how to encourage growth and transformation.

One of my "nun books" tells of a Mother Abbess tending at the bedside of a dying Sister, old enough to be her grandmother. The Abbess smooths the linens and plumps the pillow, and takes the old woman in her arms to feed her, asking, "Are you comfortable, my child?" It is a very touching scene.

Again and alas! We have neither Abbess nor Mistress of Postulants watching over us, treating us as beloved daughters, allowing a little laziness here and addressing a little foolishness there . . . and somehow getting the job done as the weeks and months go by. One nun wrote that within two months in the monastery, she began to feel very nun-like in deportment, and all that was left to be accomplished was - Christlikeness!

We haven't got what they have! Neither monastery, nor Abbess, neither habit nor Rule. We shall have to work with what we have . . . hearts for God, the Comforter Who has come, garments of praise and righteousness, and the law which God has placed within our hearts.

Benedict's rule is unbending in love and devotion, yet very practical in terms of making love and devotion work.

Ours ought to be as well.

Shall we do less for our own souls? We are the abbots and abbesses of the monastery of the heart.

Photo of the fountain at Little Portion Retreat Center
Photo by Kerry

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